It’s night, and the stars are out, and the moon’s looking down with a bit of concern; because maybe, just maybe, this is the last night of the world.
The road smells of heat and rubber and it’s black and detailed in the night.
Johnny’s racing Sue.
It’s casual at first. They’re idling at the light; and the tops of their cars are down; and Johnny says to Sue, “I hear you won’t date a guy, he can’t beat you on the road.”
“I hear you can’t date anybody at all,” she says. “Your Daddy’s so concerned with propriety.”
And Johnny touches the crucifix that’s hanging around his neck, a bit concerned, and then he laughs, and he pulls it off, and he drops it to the side.
“It’s on,” he says.
And the little angel and the little devil on his shoulder are fighting, seems fair to say, and he’s got this grin of one part fear and one part lust and seven parts excitement.
And the light turns green and the cars rip off.
Sue’s smooth and cool and she tips her sunglasses down to her nose as her car pulls out. The moon’s concerned about that, too, because it’s not very safe, but it does look fine.
And Johnny’s stomping on the gas, wrestling with the clutch, and the true thing is, he isn’t very good.
She pulls ahead.
And the sky is clear above Reaper’s Hill, and the two cars tear up towards the gallows point (called lover’s lane these sordid years) where once Black Richards hung. And Sue’s just far enough ahead that she relaxes, a tiny bit, and slows her car, as the shooting star flares past.
“I wish—” she says, her eyes tracking the star and not the road. “I wish—“
A pony? A new engine? Cash?
Her maiden’s heart is full of lovely notions.
But she doesn’t have the time to speak her wish; there’s a twisting in the sky and the star turns red.
“What kind of—“
There’s a stuttering in her engine. Her wheel locks. She turns and looks back, an outraged glare.
Johnny’s coming up the hill.
The star thing is pouring down from the sky towards lover’s lane. It is sprawling forth great Mandelbrot limbs of fire and there’s a rumbling in the earth.
She can feel Black Richards rising.
Johnny’s car shoulders past her; it leaves her staring at the red lights of its rear. She wrestles with the wheel and with tense slowness pumps the pedal of the gas. There is sweat on her brow and the gaping edge of Reaper’s Curve before her.
But fair is fair.
Between every wish and its fruition there is a space to breathe; and in that space, she drags the wheel to the right.
Her car makes protest. There is a grinding of the gears. Then it pulls to the right, steadies on the road, and smooths its course.
“Who wishes for the end of the world?” she says.
Her engine revs.
Johnny’s mad eyes look back at her in the mirror of his car. He’s saying something. She doesn’t hear it, which is just as well; his words aren’t sensible, but mumbled gutturals that reflect the war in his heart.
Now is the time for a good Christian boy like Johnny to make his peace with Jesus and rise to Heaven when the Rapture comes; but on the other hand, he’s winning.
She tries to pass him but he’s not so lame as that; and his car’s not suffering quite so much as hers from the doom that falls.
She’s weaving back and forth on the road behind him, and he pulls left and right to block her.
Staring in the mirror, hand reaching for the crucifix and pulling back, the other on the wheel—he pulls left and right, left and right, and then left HARD; and over, out, and down, too focused on his mirror to see the reaper’s scythe ahead, and Johnny’s twisting up like meat against the acceleration of the ground.
His car bursts into flames as it rolls, flames that draw into themselves the red fire of the star and leave it white and clean again.
Sue pulls up, panting, at the edge of gallows point, and leans her head down honking on the wheel for a cold long time.
There’s nothing else you can do, when someone makes a wish like that. Whether it’s on purpose or an accident—whether they’re a malevolent forerunner of doom or just somebody who’s thinking too much about the doom their Daddy told—you’ve got to take them out before the star can fall.
But it hurts, it hurts like knifepoints in the heart, if you’re a girl like Sue.
And she never gets her pony.